The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● CO-04: Colorado state Rep. Richard Holtorf announced Tuesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential primary bid against Republican Rep. Ken Buck, a Freedom Caucus member who has improbably morphed into a vocal critic of extremists in his own party. Holtorf may not get his chance to take on Buck, though, as the congressman revealed that same day that he was interested in leaving the House to take an on-air cable news job.
Holtorf, who is the first notable Republican to publicly express interest in campaigning against the incumbent in the 4th District, told Colorado Public Radio he'd make up his mind in December. The state representative took Buck to task for condemning a letter from local Republicans accusing the federal government of violating the rights of Jan. 6 defendants, as well as Buck's opposition to his party's fervor to impeach Joe Biden. "Why is he on CNN and MSNBC?" asked Holtorf, "I don't think the message he is explaining represents the sentiment of the district."
But voters may soon see a whole lot more of their congressman on one of those networks than in eastern Colorado. The New York Post published a story shortly after the CPR interview went live in which Buck said, "I am interested in talking to folks at CNN and other news organizations—on the, I don't want to call them left, but sort of center-left—and having an opportunity to do that full-time or do that as a contributor would be great also."
Buck went on to inform the paper he was also eyeing similar roles at hard-right outlets like Fox News and Newsmax, though he added that he hasn't decided if he wants to leave the House just yet. And despite publishing a Washington Post piece titled, "My fellow Republicans: One disgraceful impeachment doesn't deserve another," Buck also said he hadn't actually ruled out voting to impeach Biden. "I am not opposed to impeachment, I'm opposed to the impeachment inquiry because I don't think it gives us any broader authority to investigate this," the congressman argued.
Until recently, it would have been tough to imagine Buck speaking out against his party's far-right elements. Buck, who previously served as Weld County district attorney, first emerged on the national scene as a prominent tea partier in the 2010 cycle when he challenged Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. His hardline rhetoric, however, helped cost his party a pickup during what was otherwise a massive GOP wave.
Late in the campaign, Buck appeared on "Meet the Press" and said he stood by his 2005 declaration that he had refused to prosecute an alleged rape because "a jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer's remorse." He also argued that being gay was a choice. "I think birth has an influence over it," he said, "like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice." Republicans quickly responded to Buck's narrow loss by citing him, along with Delaware's Christine O'Donnell and Nevada's Sharron Angle, as a cautionary example of what happens when the party chooses extremist nominees in crucial Senate races.
Unlike his fellow travelers, though, Buck actually had a future in elected office. For a time in 2014, he waged another Senate bid, but then switched places with Rep. Cory Gardner when the latter decided to wage a late campaign against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Buck decisively won the primary for Gardner's seat by a 44-24 margin, and he's never had trouble holding his reliably red constituency. He went on to chair the state GOP ahead of a dispiriting 2020 cycle and has spent most of his tenure as an ardent conservative, though he broke from Freedom Caucus doctrine in 2021 when he became part of the minority of Republicans to vote to recognize Biden's win.
Holtorf, by contrast, likely has far more in common with most of Buck's colleagues on the extreme right. The state representative made national news in 2021 when he called a Latino colleague "Buckwheat," claiming later that he didn't know of the racist origins of the word. Holtorf again attracted unwanted attention again the next year when he accidentally dropped his gun in the state capitol while rushing to a vote, an episode that one observer called "reckless and scary."
● We did it! And it's all thanks to Molech! We're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to giving praise to the dark god himself after New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter won a critical special election over Republican Jim Guzofski, the loony toons pastor who once ranted that liberals make "blood sacrifices to their god Molech." Democrats are now just one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the state House and should feel good about their chances in the Granite State next year. Republicans, meanwhile, can only stew bitterly that they lack the grassroots fundraising energy provided by Daily Kos, which endorsed Rafter and raised the bulk of his campaign funds via small donations.
We're also joined by Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf to update us on the ongoing litigation over Alabama's congressional map. In an unusual move, the court's appointed expert invited the public to submit their own proposals as he prepares replacement maps, so Wolf took him up on the offer and drew two plans of his own. Wolf describes those plans in detail and sings the praises of Dave's Redistricting App, the invaluable free tool that has allowed ordinary citizens to participate in the redistricting process in ways never before possible.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● AZ-Sen: Politico reported Wednesday that Republican Kari Lake, who continues to challenge her defeat in last year's race for governor, will "almost certainly" announce in October that she'll run for the Senate, which is the same timeline Axios laid out last month. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb has been campaigning for the GOP nod since April, but it remains to be seen if any other notable names will join in. While multiple publications said just before Labor Day that 2022 Senate nominee Blake Masters had decided to get in, a separate Politico story from Wednesday says his entry is "now on hold as Kari Lake preps her entry."
● IN-Sen: Wealthy businessman John Rust has filed a lawsuit to challenge the state law that would keep him off the GOP primary ballot, though he'd be the underdog against Rep. Jim Banks even if he succeeded in court.
The state only allows candidates to run with the party they belong to, and the easiest way for Hoosiers to establish party affiliation is to cast their two most recent primary votes in that side's nomination contests. (There is no party registration in Indiana.) But while Rust most recently participated in the 2016 GOP primary, his prior vote was in the 2012 Democratic race. Candidates can get an exemption if their local party chair certifies that they belong to the party, but Jackson County party head Amanda Lowery said last month she wouldn't do this.
● KY-Gov: Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear has launched his most hard-hitting ad of the race, a spot where a rape survivor condemns Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron's ardent opposition to abortion rights. "I was raped by my stepfather after years of sexual abuse," says a woman identified as Hadley. "I was 12."
Hadley continues, "Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it's like to stand in my shoes. This is to you, Daniel Cameron: to tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather, who raped her, is unthinkable."
Beshear last month became probably the first statewide candidate to ever air a general election ad attacking the GOP's opposition to abortion rights, and Planned Parenthood has also launched digital ads on the topic. Cameron has defended the state's near-total ban, which has no exemptions for rape or incest, in court and on the campaign trail, telling LEX 18 News in April, "I'm not going to waiver in my position on this and we're going to continue to defend the law as is."
The attorney general seems to have finally recognized that that stance is toxic even in this conservative state, and he declared Monday, "If our legislature was to bring legislation before me that provided exceptions for rape and incest, I would sign that legislation."
Beshear's side quickly made it clear they wouldn't stop attacking his record in office, though. The state Democratic Party posted 2022 footage Tuesday where Cameron celebrated the end of Roe v. Wade by proclaiming, "Abortion is, for all intents and purposes, over here in the commonwealth, with the exemption of life [of the mother]. There is no rape and incest exemption." The governor's campaign debuted this new ad the following day.
● LA-Gov: State Rep. Richard Nelson, who raised little money and barely registered in the polls, announced Wednesday that he was exiting the Oct. 14 all-party primary and endorsing his fellow Republican, far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry. Nelson said last month that he was interested in replacing another now-former GOP rival, Stephen Waguespack, as head of the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, but he also acknowledged Wednesday that the group had passed him over.
● UT-Gov, UT-Sen: While former Rep. Jason Chaffetz still hasn't ruled out running for governor or Senate this cycle, the Republican acknowledged to KSL he's likely to remain a Fox News talking head instead. "That's not something I'm planning to do, challenging Gov. [Spencer] Cox is not in my plans," said Chaffetz, adding he's more interested in seeking the governorship in 2028. He also said of a campaign to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, "I haven't fully closed the door on it, but it's not something I'm actively pursuing."
● CA-40: EMILY's List has endorsed Tustin Unified School District trustee Allyson Muñiz Damikolas in the top-two primary to face GOP Rep. Young Kim in an eastern Orange County seat that Joe Biden carried 50-48. Damikolas' only notable intra-party foe is retired Orange County Fire Capt. Joe Kerr, who previously earned endorsements from four Southern California House Democrats: Senate candidates Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, plus Reps. Lou Correa and Mike Levin.
● AZ Ballot: A campaign has launched in Arizona to place an amendment on next year's general election ballot to do away with the state's partisan primaries starting in 2026, an effort that comes months after Republican legislators placed their own amendment on the ballot to protect the status quo and ban instant-runoff voting. The Arizona Mirror says that if both amendments won next year, only the one with the most support would take effect.
However, even if voters opted to change how elections are conducted, it still wouldn't be up to voters what system they'd get to use. Axios' Jeremy Duda explains that, while all the candidates would run on one all-party primary ballot, it would be up to the legislature if anywhere between two and five contenders would advance to the general election for races where only one candidate can win.
Instant-runoff voting would be used for the second round of voting if more than two contenders are allowed to move forward, but the GOP's hatred of ranked-choice voting means that this almost certainly wouldn't happen as long as the party maintains its narrow majorities in both chambers. Should the legislature fail to reach an agreement, though, it would be up to the secretary of state―a post currently held by Democrat Adrian Fontes―to make this call.
In order to qualify for the ballot, the campaign must secure about 384,000 valid signatures by July 3. Republican leaders very much hope it fails to hit this target, with state party chair Jeff DeWit ardently condemning the effort.
● OH Ballot: Ohio's Republican-led Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld most of the summary that the conservative Ohio Ballot Board crafted for the Nov. 7 proposed abortion rights amendment to replace the one drawn up by the amendment's backers, including text that substitutes the words "unborn child" in place of "fetus." The actual text of the amendment that would go into the state constitution remains unchanged.
One Republican on the seven-member body, Justice Pat Fischer, sided with the three Democrats to order the Ballot Board to swap the words "state of Ohio" out for "citizens of the state of Ohio" in a passage describing who had the power to limit access to the procedure. However, the summary that will go before voters will still declare that the amendment would "[a]lways allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability if, in the treating physician's determination, the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman's life and health."
Mayors & County Leaders
● Manchester, NH Mayor: Republican Jay Ruais and Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh advanced out of Tuesday's nonpartisan primary to the Nov. 7 general election to succeed retiring incumbent Joyce Craig, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, for a two-year term as leader of New Hampshire's largest city. Ruais secured 42% while Cavanaugh, a former state senator who went into the first round with endorsements from Craig and Sen. Maggie Hassan, beat out fellow Democratic Alderman Will Stewart 25-19 for second; a third Democratic alderman, June Trisciani, took the remaining 14% and quickly backed Cavanaugh.
While supporters of Ruais, who is a former congressional staffer, celebrated his first-place finish, at least one prominent Republican strategist noted that the three Democrats outpaced him 58-42. Michael Biundo tweeted that Ruais "will celebrate tonight and he should," but continued, "as someone that has spent a lot of time around Manchester politics, the fact the Democrats got a combined majority is a cautionary tale for the GOP. Lots of work ahead if Manchester is going to move in a better direction."
While Manchester, with a population of just over 110,000, isn't a particularly large city by American standards, its status as one of the few places with a sizable concentration of voters and activists in New Hampshire makes it an enticing place for presidential hopefuls to burnish their profiles—not to mention fill their favor banks. The mayor's office also is an attractive springboard to bigger things, particularly given the dearth of statewide elected positions in New Hampshire (only the governor and its two U.S. senators are elected by the entire state).
Republicans had held the mayor's office for more than a decade prior, but Craig broke their streak in 2017 by unseating incumbent Ted Gatsas. The GOP is now hoping to win this key city back even though Biden carried it by a 56-42 margin, which was the best performance by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.
● San Mateo County, CA Board of Supervisors: Former Rep. Jackie Speier unexpectedly announced Tuesday that she would run for an open seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, the five-member body the Democrat previously served on four decades ago. Speier first won that post in 1980, two years after she survived the 1978 Jonestown cult shooting that murdered her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, by unseating a 20-year incumbent. She left after she was elected to the state Assembly in 1986, and she'd eventually serve close to 15 years in Congress.
Speier, who retired from the House last cycle, launched her new effort this week by declaring, "The people of District 1 know me, and I know them. I will use the skills I've honed, the relationships I've built, and the experiences I've earned to fix problems our community confronts." She should have a far easier time winning the officially nonpartisan race south of San Francisco than she did in 1980, as the two major contenders, Millbrae Councilmember Gina Papan and Burlingame Councilmember Emily Beach, both dropped out and endorsed her. The nonpartisan primary will be in March, with a November general if no one wins a majority.
P.S. Three of Speier's former House colleagues currently serve on the board of supervisors for other counties in California. Democrat Janice Hahn gave up her seat in 2012 to wage a successful bid in Los Angeles County, while Republican Paul Cook did the same thing in 2020 in San Bernardino County to the east. Another Democrat, Hilda Solis, left the House in 2009 to become U.S. secretary of labor, and she later won the 2014 race to join Hahn on the governing body for America's most populous county, whose five supervisors each represent nearly three times as many constituents as House members do.
This sort of career switch hasn't worked out for every House member, though. In 2014 freshman Democratic Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod left her safely blue seat to run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors only to lose a tight race to Republican Assemblyman Curt Hagman, and their 2018 rematch went the same way.
● Los Angeles, CA City Council: City Councilmember Kevin de León announced Wednesday that he'd seek reelection, a development that comes almost a year after audio surfaced where he and two of his then-colleagues made racist comments about other councilmembers and Los Angeles residents. De León, who defied calls for his resignation from President Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats, told Politico, "I understood in a deeper way the relationship that I had with my community and how that motivates and drives me. That's why I'm still here."
De León, who is a former leader of the state Senate, rose to national prominence in the 2018 cycle when he waged an unsuccessful challenge from the left against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but he returned to elected office in 2020 when he won a seat on the 15-member City Council in America's second-largest city.
De León went on to take a distant third place in the 2022 nonpartisan primary for mayor, but he had much bigger concerns a few months later when audio leaked of his 2021 conversation with City Council President Nury Martinez, City Councilman Gil Cedillo, and labor leader Ron Herrera. The quartet discussed how to use City Council redistricting to strengthen Latino representation and weaken their opponents, and Martinez also made bigoted remarks about Jews, Armenian Americans, African Americans, and Oaxacans.
At one point De León was recorded agreeing when Martinez described the Black adopted child of a white colleague, Mike Bonin, as "an accessory," with De León saying Bonin's decision to bring his son to political events was like "when Nury brings her Goyard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag." De León also described Bonin as the council's "fourth Black member," adding, "Mike Bonin won't fucking ever say peep about Latinos. He'll never say a fucking word about us."
The release of the recording turned into a national scandal, and both Martinez and Herrera ended up resigning; Cedillo, who had lost reelection months before, ended up staying until his term ended that December. But De León, who would call his insult about the younger Bonin as "a flippant remark," remained put. He argued to Politico this week that, while he should have called out Martinez and the others during their talk, "The context of our conversation was about redistricting and ensuring equal representation." He continued, "You have to look no further than the maps that were drawn. Are they fully reflective of the demographics of the city? Not really."
De León's many foes, though, aren't accepting any of his apologies or explanations. Two Democratic members of the California Assembly, Miguel Santiago and Wendy Carrillo, said that, while they didn't diverge with the incumbent on policy, he couldn't remain in office. Another contender, tenants rights attorney Ysabel Jurado, meanwhile argued she'd represent a change from the unacceptable status quo in city politics.
All of the candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot in March, which is the same day that California holds its federal and state primary, and a November runoff would take place unless someone secures a majority. However, several labor leaders argue to Politico that the incumbent is anything but doomed. "He's out in the community," said one unnamed source, while another said the crowded field could make it tougher to present a united front.
● Where Are They Now?: Heading to the pokey. Former Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who served from 1993 until his 2011 retirement, was sentenced to 22 months in prison Tuesday for insider trading, and the judge ordered him to report to jail in late November.
Correction: This piece originally featured a photo of Rep. David Schweikert but mistakenly identified him as Rep. Ken Buck. The photo has been replaced with one of Buck.